California's Lodi region: the wines of Berghold and Old Lockeford

The publicity materials for Lodi Wine Country call it an “emerging jewel of California wine” and “Northern California’s newest fine wine region”.  In terms of tourism, that may be true, but in terms of viticulture, it’s very far from the truth.  Lodi is flat alluvial, delta country, and the vineyards are flat and stretch over large areas: it must surely be one of the least scenic winemaking regions of the world.  It is, however,  the location of the oldest zinfandel vines in California, with substantial plantings that are now over 100 years old.  Plantings are not restricted to Zinfandel, but it is the old vine zinfandel that is the real star: much else is really just for bulk production and is often low quality.  But things are slowly changing – hence the publicity straplines.  I visited two wineries, one which showed the potential for Lodi, and one which reflected an older style.

Berghold Vineyards
Berghold Victorian Winery and Vineyards
N. Cherry Road, Lodi

Despite the "Victorian" name, this is a brand new winery and vineyards.  Joe Berghold, the owner, is the inspiration between the Italianate winery architecture and the heavy Victorian wood interiors, with modern and real antiques and architectural salvage.  Clearly some money has been spent to set Berghold Vineyards apart from the largely conservative farming community of Lodi, even down to the planting of a mile long strip of rose bushes along the road.  Joe’s son is the winemaker and I think shows some promise.

2004 Berghold Viognier, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 15.2%
435 cases were made of this unoaked viognier.  It has an interesting nose, with peaches, apricots and almonds, together with a hint of amaretto.  There’s quiet a strong perfume on the nose.  Not a bad palate: it has quite pure flavours and a touch of residual sugar.  This is a decent, straightforward, reasonably elegant viognier.  Good length and a very clean finish, with a nice grapey aftertaste.  Very Good.  87/100

2005 Foot Stomp Zinfandel, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 15.4%
100% zinfandel, aged for fourteen months in American oak.  It’s got a nice soft cherry fruit nose that gives it an almost Italianate feel.  There’s ripe, concentrated fruit, but without any over-ripeness or jamminess.  It has a very good freshness, good fruit and a nice balance.  The oak gives it a bit of a spicy finish.  Very Good.  87/100

2005 Merlot, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, cask sample
This was a cask sample: they expected to bottle around 21st March 2007.  It contains 3% cabernet.  It has a real wow of a nose with big floral elegance.  Soft, very elegant palate with a great restraint.  This is remarkably good: very precise and elegant.  If it ends up the same when bottled, it merits Very Good Indeed+.  93/100

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, cask sample
This is 100% cabernet sauvignon that had just finished its time in barrel (15% French oak; 85% American oak) and after bottling will be aged in bottle for up to 12 months.
It has round black fruit and some restrained cassis notes on the nose, with a nice geranium leaf hint of perfume.  A gentle, fruity attack, leads to a soft restrained palate.  Remarkably, this is almost softer than the 2004.  Very Good Indeed/Excellent.  93-4/100

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 13.5%
523 cases produced.  This has more red fruit on the nose than the 2005: a bit funky with some green vegetables and with some minerality too.  Open and expressive on the palate, it feels a bit light in the mouth.  Good structure.  Very Good Indeed.  91/100

2003 Cabernet Franc-Syrah, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 14.9%
510 cases were made of this blend of 52% cabernet franc and 48% syrah.  It has good plummy black fruit on the nose, with a nice lift and some chocolatey richness.  Soft and easy on the palate, this is a very drinkable wine, with some character on the finish.  It represents nice easy drinking with decent interest.  Very Good+.  88/100

2001 Syrah, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 13.8%
690 cases produced.  There is very precise, restrained black fruit on the nose with only a touch of roast meat and torrefaction.  There’s good clean fruit on the attack, and it opens out nicely on the palate, with good balance.  Possibly it’s a touch straightforward.  Nice velvety feel in the mouth, especially on the finish.  Very Good+.  88/100

2004 Petite Sirah, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 15.6%
There is 2.5% of cabernet franc and 2.5% of syrah in the blend for this wine.  It has a really elevated nose – very black and juicy.  Very forward ripe fruit flavours fill the mouth: very concentrated fruit; very deep and with layers of flavours.  A big tannic structure develops in the mouth.  Sweet fruit and tannins characterise the finish.  Very Good/Very Good Indeed.  89/100

NV Stogie Club Petite Sirah California port, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards, 18.3%
This particular bottling was a blend of the 2003 and 2004 vintages.  It has a really interesting nose with some black fruit, some raisins, some cognac aromas and some tobacco syrup aromas.  The palate has ripe, full flavours.  This is a very easy port-style wine – you just feel a touch of spirit on the middle of the tongue on the finish.  Very interesting.  Very Good/Very Good Indeed.  89/100

2002 Late Harvest Viognier, Lodi, Berghold Vineyards
This is a botrytis-affected sweet wine that was aged for three years in French oak: 271 cases were made.  It has a very elegant honey and apricots nose.  There are lots of botrytis flavours on the palate and despite the grape, this has more of a Tokay feel than an Hermitage.  This is a decent sweet wine, but it’s really very simple.  Very Good.  85/100


Old Lockeford Winery
Old Lockeford is one of, and I was advised the best of a handful of wineries based in the Vino Piazza Tasting Rooms, a rather uninviting severe set of converted industrial buildings at Lockeford near Lodi.

The owner/winemaker has an interest in fossils and palaeontology, which explains the names of some of the wines and the label designs, not to mention the fossils and geological samples exhibited in the tasting room.  There seems to be quite a scattergun approach to varieties and winemaking, with no hint of specialisation or concentration on what works best in the Lodi region.  That said most of the wines represented straightforward easy drinking, and many would make solid restaurant house wines.

2005 Viognier, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 15.8%
A rather funky, concentrated, perfumed nose.  Very strongly flavoured: this is really powerful stuff and not at all pleasant.  It finishes with huge, nasty alcohol, which I suppose does at least match the massive flavour.  Yuk.  66/100

2005 Chardonnay, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.6%
Quite a delicate light nose.  Decent, fairly fragrant palate.  It’s not a bad chardonnay, but lacks much identifiably regional character.  There’s a bit of an odd, extracted flavour on the finish.  Good-ish.  81/100

2005 Mourvèdre, Norman Knoll Vineyards, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.8%
The nose has meaty black fruits and a touch of manure.  Good, light, fresh flavours.  Fairly simple, but really rather pleasing.  It has a nice, relatively forward fruit character and a gentle structure, that follows all the way through.  Very Good.  86/100

2005 Sangiovese, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.7%
A very curious nose, with some very sweet cherries and a touch of chocolate.  There’s quite sweet fruit on the palate – very forward fruit.  It lacks structure and interest, but is no doubt a decent, easy-drinking wine.  There is some structure and acidity evident on the finish, but it’s a shame it’s not more integrated.  Good+.  83/100

2005 Zinfandel, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.9%
There’s blackberry and blueberry fruit on the nose: fairly ripe, but not overblown.  Decent palate.  Again, this is a reasonably attractive, easy drinking wine.  Very Good.  85/100

2002 Raw Zin Reserve, Zinfandel, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.9%
This has a very restrained nose; almost a bit dumb, just with some reticent black fruit.  Again, it’s a very straightforward palate, but it’s nice and juicy and has a certain appeal in an easy drinking way.  Good+.  83/100

2005 Petit Verdot, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.2%
There is attractive brambly fruit on the nose.  Simple direct attack.  There are some crème de mure flavours but without any spirit.  There’s a real chocolatey feel after.  This represents decent easy, unchallenging drinking.  84/100

2005 Merlot, Napa Valley, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.5%
The nose has decent, straightforward plummy fruit.  Decent, open, rounded palate.  But this feels particularly simple.  Good-ish.  82/100

2005 Petite Sirah, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.5%
Minted, unchallenging black fruits dominate the nose.  Good palate, with good fruit, but there’s also a nice lift of a floral aroma-flavour.  This wine shows markedly more structure than the previous wines.  Very Good.  86/100

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.6%
There is forward cassis fruit on the nose.  Good, straightforward, light, fruity palate.  Largely unchallenging, but perfectly drinkable.  Good/Very Good.  85/100

2005 Harvest Red, California, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.5%
This is a blend of petite sirah, barbera, merlot and cabernet sauvignon from various sources, hence the catch-all California appellation.  The nose is that of a cheap red wine.  Simple, straightforward, easy palate.  It would make a decent party wine.  OK/Good.  80/100

2005 Barbera, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 14.5%
There is gentle raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose.  Nice palate, with good balance.  Definitely an easy wine, but there is some interest in there.  Very Good+.  87/100

2005 Riesling, Norman Knoll Vineyards, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.5%
This is made as a medium sweet wine.  It has a very strange musky butterscotch nose.  There are some grapey flavours on the palate, but there is little in the way of varietal character, and it’s really just a grapey, sweet watery juice.  OK.  76/100

2004 Muscat Canelli, California, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.9%
This has a straightforward, sweetish, grapey muscat nose.  Pleasant and easy on the palate, but it has no depth or complexity at all.  It has its place, I suppose, and on reflection, it’s not actively bad.  There’s a touch of heat on the finish, but also some acidity that lends it a touch of freshness.  82/100

2005 Black Muscat, California, Old Lockeford Winery, 15%
This has a very muted nose and a gentle, sweet palate.  Very simple and not worth the effort.  74/100

2005 Wild Butterscotch, California, Old Lockeford Winery, 13.2%
This is a variety they found growing in a vineyard and haven’t properly identified: they think it’s possibly not vitis vinifera.  The name of the wine is well chosen: the nose has a real butterscotch scent and a crème brulée creaminess.  This is really rather weird: it tastes just like crème caramel.  It’s not cloying or even particularly sweet, but it has the impression of the sweetness and indeed all the characteristics of a good crème caramel.  Bizarre stuff.  Very Good??  85/100??

2006 Wild Butterscotch, California, Old Lockeford Winery, pre-release sample from an unlabelled bottle.
Quite different to the 2005, this has a buttery maple syrup nose.  The palate is sweetish, with some fruit acidity that hasn’t yet integrated.  It’s definitely much more like wine than the 2005, but it’s still weird.  It’s also odd that there should be so much variation in taste between vintages.  84/100??

2002 White Port, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 18.5%
This is made from an equal blend of chardonnay and Flame Tokay.  It does have quite a white port nose – a touch raisiny and oxidised, feeling fairly dry.  Decent palate.  Straightforward, but pleasant.  84/100

2005 Late Cretaceous Zinfandel, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 16%
This is a late harvest zinfandel.  It has ripe, sweet blackberry fruit on the nose with some chocolatey notes.  Ripe and clean on the palate with decent balance.  Generally very simple, yet attractive, which seems to be the hallmark of the Old Lockeford style.  84/100

2005 Fire and Ice, Zinfandel, Maley Vineyards, Ice Wine, Lodi, Old Lockeford Winery, 15%
There’s sweet black fruit on the nose, which is a bit undistinguished.  Very focussed and pure on the palate.  Not too sweet at all.  More than just a curiosity, with lots of acidity to give it a good balance.  Where does all that acidity come from in a zinfandel?  Good.  83/100

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Last updated: 30 December 2008